Foods and Herbs for Liver Detox and Support

The liver is vital to overall health, so keeping your liver clean and working efficiently will help you feel your best. The main function of the liver is to secrete bile, a fluid that helps the body eliminate waste. The better the liver is able to produce bile, the better the cleansing power of the liver. The liver is also important for proper digestion of fats and regulation of blood sugar levels. When certain conditions, such as hepatitis or cirrhosis, impair the liver or the organ becomes overwhelmed with toxins from processed foods and environmental pollution, waste products build up in other areas of the body, too.

The good news is that you can improve your liver function through diet, even without a trip to the health food store. If you're starting a liver cleansing diet or looking for a natural liver cleanse, here are some foods and herbs that are effective, affordable, easy to find, and easy to use. The foods and herbs listed below can be found in supplement form, either individually or as part of a liver support or liver detox mix, but you can pick them up in their natural forms at the grocery store.
Please note that if you have problems with your gall bladder or kidneys or have a chronic condition such as diabetes or high blood pressure, check with a nutrition-oriented physician or nutritionist before adding products to your diet. If you have acute liver pain or nausea, check with a doctor as soon as possible. You may have a blocked bile duct and some of the foods listed below could worsen your problem.
Globe artichoke (Cynara scolymus) 
The chemical that gives the artichoke its distinctive pleasantly bitter taste can also aid the liver. This chemical, cyranin, along with other compounds found in artichokes, helps increase the liver's production of bile and strengthens the bile duct so that it's better able to contract. The chemicals in artichokes also strengthen liver cell walls, protecting them from damage. Because artichokes can break up and mobilize fat stored in the liver, it's useful as a natural liver detox and for lowering cholesterol. You don't need pills to get the benefits; just eating artichokes can help. Since the highest concentration of cyranin is found in the leaves, which are simple to prepare and great to eat with a dip.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) 
This common cooking herb is one of the easiest to find of all liver detox herbs. The biologically active compounds in this herb are caffeic acid and rosemarinic acid, both of which stimulate the liver to work more efficiently. Researchers at the National Institute of Agronomic Research in Dijon, France discovered that rosemary extract helped liver enzymes such as glutathione to flush toxins from the liver faster so these toxins had less time to do damage (Debersac P et al. Food Chem Toxicol 2001:39(9):907-918). The two healthy acids in rosemary also reduce inflammation that can lead to liver disease. Rosemary's pungent aroma and taste complement chicken, lighter vegetables dishes, and breads.

Turmeric (Curcuma longa) 
One of the ingredients in the spice mix known as curry, turmeric is credited with quite a range of health-giving properties and it's also a proven-effective natural liver cleanse. The yellowish oils, called curcuminoids, in this plant help reduce any build-up of toxins in the body, including the liver. It is said to shrink enlarged hepatic ducts, so it can be useful to treat liver conditions such as hepatitisand cirrhosis. It's also been shown to increase the liver's output of glutathione, a powerful liver enzyme that helps the liver rid itself of toxins (Basic Clin Pharmacol Toxicol. 2006 Jan;98(1):32). A member of the ginger family, this mildly peppery root adds a warm flavor and a golden yellow color to rice, beans, and vegetables as well as chicken and fish. Turmeric can also be taken as a tincture or simply mixed into fruit juice and drunk.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) 
This common weed, or "meadow herb" if you prefer, has numerous health benefits and liver cleansing is one of them. Dandelion increases the production and flow of bile from the liver, helping to cleanse the organ. While dandelion is a good source of source of potassium, calcium, phosphorus and iron and provides more vitamin A per gram than carrots, it also contains a high amount of choline, which tones and strengthens the liver. What's more, it also helps flush out fat deposits from the liver. The roots are the best source of the liver supporting compounds. If you can find a location free of pesticides, you can collect roots and make a tea, tincture, or herbal decoction from them.

Chicory (Cichorium intybus) 
Traditionally used as a coffee substitute, chicory also happens to be good for your health. Compounds in this plant's flowers, seeds and roots stimulate bile production and cleans the liver. Chicory also acts as a mild laxative and diuretic, which takes some of the work load off an overburdened liver. Furthermore, it's also been proven effective in lowering cholesterol content in cases of fatty liver (The Journal of Nutrition Vol. 128 No. 10 October 1998, pp. 1731-1736). Chicory tea or chicory coffee is the most common way to use this plant, but you can also blend a decoction of the flowers, seeds or roots or toss some fresh, young chicory leaves into your salads.

While these foods and herbs can help cleanse and detox your liver, there are some very effective liver detox herbs that are better taken as supplements. For example, the silymarin in milk thistle (Silybum marianum) seeds is excellent for liver support, but hard for the body to absorb if you simply eat the seeds. You'll benefit more from concentrated silymarin in capsule form. There are numerous natural products that are good for your liver, so if you're starting a liver cleansing diet, you'll have plenty of liver detox herbs and foods to choose from.

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